U.S. And Russia Still Have Some Common Ground
Published: July 31, 2014 (Issue # 1822)
In nominating John Tefft to be his ambassador to the Russian Federation, U.S. President Barack Obama chose a gifted and experienced diplomat. Assuming the Senate confirms him — and there is no reason to think it will not — he will have to draw heavily on that skill and expertise to manage a U.S.-Russian relationship that has hit its lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
One key challenge will be confronting Moscow on difficult issues, such as Ukraine, while maintaining cooperation on other questions where U.S. and Russian interests converge, such as Iran. Striking that balance will not prove easy.
Ambassador Tefft certainly brings the right credentials: More than 40 years in the diplomatic service. Ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. Deputy chief of mission in Moscow. Deputy assistant secretary with responsibility for Russia. Two tours on the Soviet desk. And he has that rare knack for being able to deliver a tough message in a way that the recipient gets it but does not want to shoot the messenger.
That will come in handy because it looks like he will need to deliver a lot of tough messages.
Ukraine tops the list of issues at present. After seizing Crimea, the Kremlin continued to interfere in Ukraine by providing support for the insurgency in Donetsk and Luhansk. This support has included the supply of heavy weapons, one of which apparently was a surface-to-air missile used by the separatists in the Malaysia Airlines shootdown. Tefft has some experience in this area, having served on the Soviet desk in 1983 when a Soviet interceptor shot down a Korean Air Lines 747.
Washington has supported Kiev and ratcheted up sanctions on Russia, in parallel with punitive measures adopted by the European Union. The sanctions have hurt the Russian economy, but they thus far have failed in their political purpose: to get President Vladimir Putin to shut down the weapon flow and press the separatists to stop fighting.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has proposed decentralizing power, making Russian an official language of Ukraine, and promising not to pursue a deeper relationship with NATO.
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